Sunday Reflection with Father Terry Tastard - 16 May 2010

New Citizens  (Photo - City & County of Swansea.

New Citizens (Photo - City & County of Swansea.

Some countries have wonderful citizenship ceremonies when their new citizens are sworn in.  I have always been impressed by pictures I have seen of these ceremonies in the USA.  One of the remarkable features is the cross-section of people who become new Americans:  some young, some old, people from many races and backgrounds.  They are often visibly moved by the occasion.  I am so glad that we are now holding similar ceremonies in the United Kingdom.  (In typical British understated style we just used to mail them a letter announcing their citizenship.)

One of the meanings of the Ascension is that we are citizens of heaven.  We are a vast throng of people, also of many backgrounds, races and languages.  We have a home here in this life, but we are also promised a homeland for eternity in the life to come.  One of the things stressed in our first reading and in the gospel is that it is the same Jesus who walked among us, who preached and taught and healed, who is taken into eternity.  ‘He had shown himself alive to them’ we read in Acts.  In Luke the risen Jesus stresses the continuity between his previous life and his resurrection.  We are to be in no doubt that this is one who was among us in human flesh.  And Jesus represents us in this continuity.  We are taken into his life, death and resurrection from the very moment of our baptism.
As we say in the opening prayer, ‘May we follow him into the new creation.’  We share his resurrection, and therefore we share a final transformation into eternity through his power and his victory.

Citizenship is often expressed in passports.  Hebrews gives us the equivalent when it says that ‘through the blood of Jesus we have the right to enter the sanctuary’.

Of course, citizenship implies rights but it also implies obligations.  Jesus does not intend us to be so focused on heaven that we forget the needs of earth.   So, while he gives us this wonderful ‘living opening’ as the Letter to the Hebrews calls it, he also promises us power to live the new life here and now.  It will be ‘power from on high’.

It is impressive that there is no sense of bereavement in the accounts of the Ascension.  This is because the first Christians did not conceive of it as a parting, but as a new beginning in which they had a strong sense of Christ’s continuing presence with them, wherever they were.  Hence the ending to the gospel today, which is not a word of mourning or grief, but a reference to worship, joy and praise.  And remember, above all, that last wonderful glimpse they have of Christ as the heavens open for him:  he blesses them.  In fact, the gospel makes it clear that he is still blessing them as he disappears from their sight.  It is, we might say, an eternal moment:  the Lord looks on his people with love, and blesses them.

Fr Terry is Parish Priest at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Brook Green, west London.   His new book:  Ronald Knox and English Catholicism is published by Gracewing at £12.99 and is available on Amazon, on ICN's front page. To read a review see:

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